Welcome to 2014 — Get Ready to Rumble!

Welcome to 2014.
I write this post from my home office, overlooking a quiet, snowy street. To my right, a coffee mug with fresh-ground Starbucks and a splash of Irish cream steams in the cool air. To my left, both cats sleep peacefully upon their pillows. Things around here are still. Serene.
The last 12 hours provided an excellent segue between calendar years. Last night, I made a pan of my spicy Andouille jambalaya, with which I paired a lovely white Michigan wine — the bottle was a gift from my neighbor, whom I helped get un-stuck from a snowbank yesterday afternoon. I built a roaring fire in the fireplace and wrote a new chapter in my novel, bringing the total now to just under 56k words. I chatted on Skype with some friends and traded celebratory text messages, then went to bed shortly after midnight. This morning, all is calm and the outlook is bright.
In retrospect, 2013 was a year of “two steps forward, one step sideways.” Let me elaborate:

  • On the health front, despite some ups and downs, I’m in fundamentally the same place as I was a year ago, and the year before that. I’ll take a “step sideways” instead of a “step backwards” any day, but this year, it’ll need to be “two steps forward.”
  • I finally got my mind wrapped around a long-term personal finance plan that will get me debt-free and ahead of the game (relative to the median of my peer cohort) for retirement savings over the next few years.
  • I competed in, and “won,” National Novel Writing Month, and I’m still working on the manuscript with the hopes of shopping it to an agent or publisher in the next few weeks or so. Much of this growth as a writer came with the support of my WriteOn! friends in the West Michigan area.
  • The podcast has grown by leaps and bounds, aided by the support of a handful of friends across the Western Hemisphere as well as the key learnings we took away from our two Las Vegas trips (the 360Vegas Vacation and the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic). I peg our current listenership at between 3,000 and 5,000 per episode, based on file-touch data from my file server.
  • I swapped jobs, moving from a somewhat personally unsatisfying role as a report writer for the hospital to being a full-fledged data scientist in the insurance company’s Quality Improvement team.
  • I have grown in professional service, being asked to stay on for another three-year term as a section officer in the American Statistical Association as well as bumping up a notch in volunteer leadership within the National Association for Healthcare Quality. And … drumroll … I was the only nominee for 2014 president-elect of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality.
  • I finally made the Isle Royale trip last Memorial Day, knocking off a bucket-list item.

So the year just past was good to me. I had goals — many of which I met or exceeded — and I made some good life choices. I’m satisfied with the outcome. But mere satisfaction isn’t sufficient; you have to embrace change and create growth opportunities to meet your fullest potential. Herewith my goals for 2014:

  • Return to 2009-levels of fitness. Technically, not a big deal. I have incentive — my 20-year reunion, summertime trips, etc. — that provide motivation. Plus, I finally (as in, just last week) cracked the code about scheduling my day to make a dedicated fitness program work like it used to. Surprisingly simple after it dawned on me that I can walk and chew gum at the same time.
  • Get active in church/volunteering again. I’ve been “off duty” at church for the last five or so years. I’ve also been church-hopping, a practice made easier given that I live almost in the shadow of the cathedral. I’m sponsoring a friend into the Catholic Church this year, and his chosen parish has an involved RCIA program, so I’ll work with him through that, then probably meander back permanently to St. Anthony during the Easter season.
  • Take next step in higher education. I’ve already got the application paperwork for a particular Ph.D. program I’m interested in and will file it this month. And, I do have a Plan B if that doesn’t work out.
  • Get the novel published. This goal looks like a win for before Valentine’s Day, at least in terms of getting the final MS ready for distribution. I intend to give it a bit of time to circulate among potential agents and publishers, but I’m aware that the odds of being snagged are vanishingly small. So I’ll probably self-publish in early summer after a sufficiently large number of rejection letters arrive.
  • Upgrade my station license. Easy win for late winter. I have the study materials, I just need to prep for the exam and take it. At a minimum, I want my radio license at General class, but if the mood strikes — and if I get involved in the Kalamazoo group, which seems more with-it than the Grand Rapids group — I might push for the top-level Extra class.
  • Compete AOW + Rescue diver certification. I am friends with two certified divers, but I haven’t been under the water in years. That needs to change. Over the next few years I want to get divemaster certification, but for 2014 I’ll settle for Advanced Open Water and Rescue, which are the foundations for most other specialty certifications anyway. That means I’ll need to invest in gear, but … I need to anyway.
  • Build an emergency fund. I’m usually so focused on doing things that my income is like a conveyer belt, going in one side and out the other without really stopping in the middle. I need a fund for emergencies — car window smashes, cat vet trips, etc., so I’m not caught S.O.L. if disaster strikes. I’m aiming for $2,400 by the end of the year, just $200 per month into the secret envelope.
  • Run in the 2014 Metro Health Marathon. Finishing a marathon is part of the bucket list. With a renewed emphasis on diving and hiking and fitness, targeting a marathon in 2014 makes sense to ensure I’m at adequate cardiovascular levels for all the other things that require, you know, breathing.
  • Return trip to Isle Royale. Looks like this one is already pretty solid for the Memorial Day holiday week, too. Some of my writing friends are contemplating a trip (probably to stay at the lodge at Rock Harbor), and my brother is strongly interested in going too.
  • Hard-book a 2015 hiking trip to Denali. This will probably be the big trip of 2015 — two weeks in the Great Wilderness. The commute isn’t actually bad — just two days by road, mostly through Canada, if you want to avoid the pain of flying into Fairbanks. Denali is a different class of hike than Isle Royale; both are remote, but Denali has bears and (in most places) no trails at all. You’re just blazing away but still carefully honor Leave No Trace principles.
  • Visit Europe. This one should be easy, too, since I’m technically committed to attend a conference in Utrecht, July 23-25. The only real challenge is that I technically need to be in Boston on August 2 for a different conference. So I might fly into Amsterdam, do the conference, take a week’s vacation, maybe Eurorail it from Utrecht to, say, Paris or London via Paris, and then head to Boston directly or back home for a day or two before Boston.
  • Continue growing the podcast.  Tony and I are planning a pair of return trips to Las Vegas, including one for the 2014 VIMFP, so that networking helps. Plus, we’re working through a long-term plan this coming weekend, thinking through ways of monetizing the show and expanding our reach through alternative distribution channels.

So. A lot on the plate, but it’s all doable, and much if it is already teed-up.
I had a good 2013, and I look forward to a good 2014. And I hope and pray that your 2014 is your best year yet.